MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Well, if you're Jewish or if you're not Jewish and you live in Ohio, you can vote beginning today. Early voting begins today and that means a lot of lawsuits. One of them was resolved yesterday despite Republican objections. The court allows people in Ohio to register and vote on the same day. And now for those other legal challenges, here is Celeste Headlee.
CELESTE HEADLEE: Five lawsuits have been filed against Ohio Secretary of State in September alone.
Secretary JENNIFER BRUNNER (Secretary of State, Ohio): If I were to guess how many more I'll see before the election, I'm going to guess five.
HEADLEE: That's secretary of state Jennifer Brunner. She says fighting the lawsuits is expensive and time-consuming, but her primary goal remains to restore confidence in the electoral process.
Secretary BRUNNER: The 2004 presidential election left a lot of people with doubts.
HEADLEE: There are grumblings in every election, Brunner says. But four years ago, the secretary of state was also a co-chair for George Bush's Ohio campaign.
Secretary BRUNNER: So when problems occurred as they would with a 75-percent turnout, people started assigning various motives to why those things had occurred.
HEADLEE: Brunner has pledged complete transparency in the election process this time. So far, it hasn't slowed the flood of litigation and many people in Ohio seem a bit irritated over all the legal wrangling. We caught up with Mark Matthews outside of a Marshall's store near Columbus.
Mr. MARK MATTHEWS (Ohio Resident): Folks really should get a life and try to not deal with lawsuit issues. That's kind of ridiculous. This whole process has become high school.
HEADLEE: One of the lawsuits deals with the law adopted in 2005 that requires election officials to send out notices to voters 60 days before an election. Six hundred thousand of the notices were returned as undeliverable. Michael Slater is with the nonprofit group Project Vote.
Mr. MICHAEL SLATER (Deputy Director, Project Vote): We can't be sure that just because someone had a piece of mail returned to them, it doesn't mean that they don't live at that address.
HEADLEE: And that's why Secretary of State Brunner has decided that a return notice isn't enough to sustain a challenge against a voter. But in 2004, Republicans challenged 35,000 voters based on return mail, and John McClelland of the Ohio GOP declined to be interviewed for this story saying they don't discuss political strategy. Slater says the 2005 law is one of many his group has fought in the past few years.
Mr. SLATER: I think what we're seeing today in 2008 is just kind of the tail end of a whole wave of litigation to challenge restrictive laws that occurred in the wake of 2004.
HEADLEE: Suits have been filed in Ohio this year over absentee voting and registration drives. There are pending lawsuits over voting procedures in all of the battleground states, including Michigan, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. And law professor Dan Tokaji from Ohio State University says that's not such a bad thing.
Mr. DAN TOKAJI (Law Professor, Ohio State University): It is far better to clarify the rules in advance of election.
HEADLEE: Than it is to wait until 11 PM on November 4th. The last thing anyone wants Tokaji says is a painful, protracted post election mess like the one we had in 2000.
Mr. DANIEL TOKAJI (Law Professor, Ohio State University): The public may not like election-related litigation but I would contend, at least they should understand it's a necessary evil.
HEADLEE: But Brad Smith says many of the lawsuits have no merit. Smith is the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and now teaches law at Capital University.
Mr. BRAD SMITH (Former Chairman, Federal Election Commission): One reason why lawsuits aimed at striking down or trying to get course to strike down voter ID laws have failed is that the plaintiffs have been unable to identify in some cases even a single voter who was not able to vote.
HEADLEE: But that hasn't stopped political parties from filing suit. Michael Slater says the stakes are so high in swing states that the parties will do whatever it takes to gain an advantage. He says election night could be chaotic in Ohio and Michigan and Florida.
Mr. SLATER: States that people describe as battleground states, I think there still is a potential that there could be a catastrophic failure in one or many of the counties there that are the major population centers.
HEADLEE: And Brad Smith says no matter what happens in the days before November 4th.
Mr. SMITH: The real law is whatever you can get one judge to do on election day.
HEADLEE: So officials and voters in Ohio are bracing for what could be another bumpy ride. For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee.
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